When you gain that kind of experience while throwing down a serious challenge to every opponent you face and, oh yeah, win the tournament’s most sportsmanlike award in the process, well, that’s just some good baseball right there.
“It’s been a long haul, but it’s been very rewarding” said All-Stars coach Tony Dreger, “I told the boys at the very end of the tournament ‘do not hang your heads, we battled every single day, we put a scare into every single team out there’. When I was there in Vancouver a few years ago, we got mercied a few times, where we didn’t get mercied in any games this time. So they should be very happy with what they achieved.”
The All-Stars posted a 1-5 record through the tournament, with their lone win an 8-3 victory over Ontario representative Ottawa West. And while they were on the wrong side of a few lopsided contests, every game saw the All-Stars put together a handful of solid offensive innings, creating more than a few tense moments for their opposition.
“At the end of the day these kids can take this and grow with this, build on it in the future, even in the next couple weeks as they look back… this is what we did, we worked all year long to get to that level and that spot and we did it,” Dreger said. “So that’s very, very exciting.”
The All-Stars did pick up one of the tournament’s highest honours – the Joe Shea Award, which is presented annually to the most sportsmanlike team at the event. Interestingly enough, the All-Stars also picked up the honour the last time they were at Little League Canadians back in 2016.
“When I talked to the tournament coordinator, he said he had no one else in mind, that we represented ourselves so well that it made it an easy pick for him,” Dreger said. “I’m super proud of the boys for being respectful and representing Moose Jaw Little League, representing Moose Jaw and representing the Prairies so well. I can’t say enough about how the boys handled themselves and it’s fantastic to win such a prestigious award.”
Then there was the mound visit during the game against Alberta that propelled Dreger and pitcher Javin Boynton into Little League lore – with a conversation about leftovers back at their dorm being picked up by the main Little League Twitter account and spread throughout the internet.
“You always try to make sure that if the kids are getting down on themselves, we’re there to have fun and play baseball,” Dreger said after a hearty laugh at the memory. “We’re there to compete but we have to have fun too and Javin was struggling, so it was just a chance to get his head off of things and remind him we were there to have a good time, too… It was a pretty good bonus and to think it went to 33,000 people, holy smokes. You can see how powerful social media is after that.”
The All-Stars will see 11 of their 12 players moving up an age class next season, meaning there will be a wholesale restart in their quest to return to the championship in 2020. That’s something Dreger wouldn’t be surprised to see.
“I think the kids who were on this team and are moving on are going to be very successful in their baseball careers wherever else they go,” he said. “And there are some strong 11 year olds who didn’t make this team this year who will move up to Major AAA next year that will have a good opportunity to represent at Canadians again. So I think baseball in Moose Jaw is very strong right now and I’m excited to see where it’s going to take us.”